An artist ruminating
Rashmi Khurana’s Nocturnal Blooms is a journey into the heart of a woman.
We are at the studio of artist Rashmi Khurana, whose solo Nocturnal Blooms recently opened at the Shridharani Gallery, that is part of the Triveni Kala Sangam complex, that is located at one of Delhi’s oldest cultural hubs, Mandi House. The exhibition is presented by her parent gallery, NIV Art Center, an artist residency space that is located in Neb Sarai. The artist studio is where all creation begins and this basement studio at Delhi’s Greater Kailash colony is orderly and neat. Finished canvases are stacked up on a wooden stand, while others that are in various stages of completion, stand propped up against corners of the room, awaiting their creator’s attention. Others find their way onto the studio walls, where the artist spends her days and nights, gazing at their painted surfaces, anticipating her next move. Neat rows of colours present themselves to the creator as do spatulas, brushes and palettes that are often over-loaded with paint. Written on colourful paper that has been glued onto the walls are excerpts from the artist’s diary, alongside a picture of her son and father-in-law, who in the solitude of her studio are her only companions.
Rashmi, what drew you towards painting?
Painting has always been a part of me. It has grown quietly and remained constantly inside me. I always wanted to be a painter and have been pursuing painting since my college days. After a gap, that I took to attend to my family, I reconnected with art as a way of knowing the world and myself, beyond being just a daughter, wife and mother. Today, I am a self-taught artist from New Delhi.
Were you always drawn towards abstraction? Tell us about your journey.
Like everyone else I began painting figurative works. I would do landscapes, flowers and people. But somehow these never held my attention. I soon grew bored of how predictable it had all become. Then one day in the late 1990s, while working at the studio of Shobha Broota, (a well-known abstract painter, who mentored Rashmi in her early years) Iwas working energetically on a canvas, splashing colour on it so vigorously that some paint landed on the neighbouring canvas. I was horrified that I had disrupted the works of a fellow painter. Instead of scolding me for what I had done, Shobha ji offered me a space to contemplate the energetic splashing of pure colour and how it had tapped an ‘inner me’, that was suppressed and dormant so far. She advised me to never lose that energy and fearlessness which had caused this outburst of colour. I think it was from that day on that I began experimenting with colour.
Tell us a little about Nocturnal Blooms and what led you to this body of work?
Even though I had been part of various group shows, since 2013, after my solo with NIV Art Center in 2015, my confidence in my work had grown substantially. I knew that the next year I would be striving towards a fresh body of work. I tend to do my best thinking at night and that is how the theme of the show emerged. As the essay says, “The dark nocturnal blooms, that are born on her canvas represent a vigor, that has matured and is more thought provoking. She is a silent witness to her own contemplative explorations.” This is quite true for I do feel a lot more settled within emotionally and hence even my expressions on canvas have matured. I want to see and sense the objects that I paint, rather than to simply reproduce them. Most of my paintings are impressions of my observations that I express with total freedom of formulation using vibrant colours and bold strokes. The exhibition presents my explorations of colour and texture, the catharsis of pouring or sprinkling paint on the canvas and the realization of the inner self.
What led you to the tapestry works? I believe it was by accident that you came upon this form?
Most of my discoveries with painting have been by chance. I find myself taking a risk every time I make a ‘mistake’. With the tapestries, I found that one of the canvases I had ripped and shredded could be reused. These shreds have led me to create a new form of the canvas. She began weaving a complex tapestry made from the strips of her destroyed paintings, churning these works from the cycle of creation and destruction into a new form — One that incorporates light and negative space as elements of the painting. These latticed ‘canvas-scrolls’, forge a way forward for Rashmi who continuously endeavors to break the stillness of a static canvas, creating a dynamic surface that vibrates with vigor.
Tell us about the diary works, how you decided to put something as intimate on the display.
As I had mentioned I do most of my thinking during the night. I often note things down in my diary and these notes become scribbles, sometimes ideas for a larger work. Over time I began sticking bits of canvas into the diary, dried shards of acrylic colours. It became a bit of a project. I feel all my work is intimate, sharing any aspect of it is sharing about one’s self, but the diary especially so.
What about the shards of colour? In fact, just before your show you decided to make them a work of art…
Yes, I am in the habit of loading a lot of colour onto my palette. After use I usually soak my palette to remove the colour. I noticed that when these colours dried and were soaked in water they become a kind of painterly component of their own. The spontaneous process became more purposeful and I began placing colours next to each other on my palette in a particular way so that when they dried I had these beautiful colours coming together as an independent element.
I think I will pursue the new directions that I have uncovered with this show and develop the tapestries and the shards to see where that goes. I also continue to paint…which I cannot stop now. I am going to Korea for an artist residency and I look forward to bringing new influences into my work through travel.